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Desktop or Online Application: Which Is Best for You?

Star Wars vs Star Trek, Mac vs PC, The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones, Messi vs Ronaldo.

In so many aspects of life, there are choices we must make. Some are trivial and your decision has little impact on the future. Others are far more important, such as the choice businesses have to make between their software being a desktop application or an online application.

In this post, we’ll be exploring these two options to see how they compare; where each of them excels and fails.

So, if you want to launch a new application but aren’t sure whether to choose desktop or web-based, or if you’re weighing up the pros and cons of moving from one to the other, this guide will come in handy.

Remote Usability

One of the most significant differences between desktop and web applications is their ability to be used and accessed from multiple locations.

Desktop applications are confined to a physical location; that being the machines on which they have been installed. In contrast, web-based applications can be accessed and used from any location with an internet connection, and through any web browser or operating system.

Now more than ever, users access programs and applications from multiple devices and diverse locations. If they are unable to use your application when they need to, you may see your user base decline. This limited usability can also prevent initial uptake, and make it difficult to attract new users.

Installation and Updates

Every time users want to access your application, they have two options: use it on the machine it was originally installed on, or install it on a new system. Installation processes are tedious, and not something that any user wants to repeat. So, when it’s necessary in order to use your application on a different system, it quickly becomes a frustration.

For web applications, users only need to install the program once, and it can then be accessed from any computer or device. Simple and efficient.

This repetitive process isn’t just limited to installation, either. Any update to a desktop application must be implemented on every single system the software is installed on. Even if your updates are necessary and make impactful changes, they will always be an annoyance to your users.

When a web application is updated, the changes are rolled out on the server and applied universally. This removes the need for any download, and means users have access to the updated software immediately from any device.


Desktop applications are as secure as the system they’re installed on. If your users maintain a high standard of general security on their computers, your desktop application will remain safe and secure. This gives them control over the program’s security and the responsibility of protecting it from potential threats.

Due to the insecurity of the internet, web-based applications are comparatively less secure than their desktop counterparts. With so many users accessing the program remotely, it is at an increased risk of being compromised. This can, however, be counteracted by developing the software with its own strict security, minimising the risk of a breach.


The speed and performance of a desktop application is determined by the configuration of the user’s computer. These apps use a system’s memory and processing power in order to run smoothly and offer a positive user experience. Your program, therefore, is at the mercy of each user’s system. If they have an advanced computer, your application will run perfectly. If they don’t, it’ll struggle, and most users will turn to a web application rather than paying to upgrade their system.

While web applications do rely on a device’s performance to a point, a fast and strong internet connection is more important. The web application may also struggle with low-powered computers, but good internet connectivity can boost the program’s performance.

The user experience of both desktop and web applications is down to each individual’s setup. So, when it comes to performance, the choice should be made based on your audience, and if they’re more likely to have a strong internet connection or a high-powered computer.


Without an internet connection, users are unable to access web-based applications. Although 59% of the global population are currently internet users, poor or intermittent connectivity could cause users to become frustrated with your software.

In contrast, desktop applications do not require internet connectivity, and will not suffer downtime that is out of your control.

Fund Manager: From Windows to Web-Based

In 2017, we transformed Fund Manager, a money management system for schools, from a Windows desktop application to an online SaaS product. Pebble, the company behind Fund Manager, recognised that their users would benefit from the software being accessible online and not limited to being accessed on an individual computer.

The new version of Fund Manager proved popular, with increasing numbers of users meaning the program became integral to the financial stability of many schools. 

Following the success of the Fund Manager migration, we’ve gone on to transform a number of other applications from desktop to web, including Class Legal’s Quantum, a vital tool relied upon by many family law solicitors.

A Nuanced Decision

The choice between desktop and online applications is a nuanced one. The right option will differ depending on each individual situation: the company’s need, the type of program, the tendencies of its users.

What is for certain is that Isotoma can design and develop the software you need, whether it’s a desktop program or an online application. What’s more, if you want to take your desktop application online, or transition from web-based to desktop, our team can make it happen.

So, whether you want to find out which type of application is right for you, or you’d like our expert developers to build the program, get in touch with Isotoma today.